I’m in my office again. We’ve had hot sunny weather for most of July and I’m taking this cool, cloudy day as an opportunity to sit at my computer. The rose of sharon is now in full bloom and bits of the lawn are starting to turn green. We’ve had a little rain and that is helping.
So I started my ninth year stripped of everything that had been important to me personally, except for my immediate family. I was trying to create a new life and the place to start was to go and meet the nine year old girl down the street. I found out what her address was and I walked down the street, entered by the side gate and walked across the back yard to the back door.
My mother had been quite adamant that you never go to someone’s front door. I am still not completely sure what the genesis of this was or why it was considered polite. There is no way to access the back door of my current home and it would be quite disconcerting to see someone that I did not know come across my backyard. It would mean that they had gone down the side of the house, opened the gate, come up onto the deck and then knocked on the door.
I’ve searched for this message in movies and books and the only reference I have ever found to this particular form of etiquette is for delivery people, domestic help and repair technicians, so I’m not sure which one of those she thought I was but it was certainly a lesson that she made sure that I knew.
I knocked on the backdoor and a woman came to answer. I explained to her that I was new on the block and that my family had just bought the house on the corner. I told her that I had heard that she had a daughter that was my age and I had come to introduce myself. She excused herself and a moment later her daughter came to the back door. I re-explained the situation and we got to know each other. She was more or less my best friend for many years.
I say more or less because we really were never as close as I have been with other people that I have called friends. We spent hours and hours together playing hopscotch, reading teen magazines, playing baseball and gossiping about our futures and the other girls.
When I finally went to school in September it was not how I had imagined it would be at all. The grade four class that I was put into had been kept intact for at least the two prior years. Someone had decided that they would split all of the children of a certain age into two groups and just keep them in those groups. This meant that I was the only one that had not been with the group for a long time. I was an outsider. My new neighbour was in my class but clearly had alliances with the other classmates and it became obvious that how she treated me at school would be dictated by how the others found me. This was certainly not the reception that I had anticipated.
In addition to that, I was a physical threat to the established bully. When I say bully here, I mean the female bully. When I was going to public school, the boys and the girls were kept separate in the schoolyard. At the first school, this was accomplished by a line that was drawn down the centre of the schoolyard and patrolled by a teacher. My new school was designed in the shaped of a “T” with the top of the “T” facing the street and the bottom of the “T” acting as a physical divider between the ‘boys’ side of the school yard and the ‘girls’ side.
I was a large child. Not only was I taller than average, being a full three inches taller than the average height for the women of my generation, but I was also athletic. At a very young age I had a strong ability to swim. By five years of age my mother had put me into races and by the time I was nine I was a proud member of an exclusive swimming club that you could only join by invitation. I swam extensively. The training was during the week and the swim meets were on the weekends. We would travel all over southern Ontario to go to city swim meets.
So when I arrived at the new school I caused a power imbalance. I don’t know what prompted the girl to challenge me to a fight, but in hind sight I suspect that she was under a lot of pressure to prove that she could still ‘take’ all of the girls in fourth grade. She repeatedly challenged me to a fight and kept trying to entice me. This was simply not part of my nature. I had no desire to fight her, nothing to prove and I found fighting revolting. Ironically, through our shared interest and ability in sports we became fairly good friends, but that would not happen for a few years.
She was relentless. Every day at lunch, after school and at recess she would try to egg me on to fight her. Her insistence became stronger and stronger. At some point, she started to shove me in the shoulder and that crossed some sort of personal boundary for me and I defended myself. I caught her hand with my hand, interlocking all of our fingers giving me a very tight grip on her. Then I twisted her arm in a way that was so painful that she fell. Through the forces of physics, I broke her arm. I remember being called into the office and having a few of the girls telling various sides of the story. I remember her mother shouting at the principal. I do not remember my parents at all.
They may have come to the school. They may not have. I do not recall them being involved. I do not recall what their response was and I do not remember any conversations about the event. This became the most prominent thing about our new home. My parents had vanished.
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